Tuesday, April 24, 2007

GM challenges the eco-critics

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
2007 SAE World Congress
GM challenges the eco-critics
Environmentalists make case to Bob Lutz; GM says plans not cut and dried as explained.
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz met with one of the company's strongest environmental critics on Tuesday, following up on an earlier challenge.

Earlier this month, Lutz called on the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that has lobbied for higher fuel economy standards, to visit GM, talk to his staff and show them the gasoline-saving technology the group says is readily available but ignored by automakers.

"This is a challenge I want to put out to people who think they have a solution, and are so much smarter than we are," Lutz told the Wall Street Journal. "Let them come and see us. If the technology were readily and easily available, what on earth would our motive be for withholding it?"

Meeting in Lutz's office at GM's headquarters, David Friedman, head of the Clean Vehicle Research program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Lutz discussed the group's contention that with off-the-shelf technology, the automaker could build a minivan that would reduce tailpipe emissions by 40 percent -- and cost just $300 per vehicle.

In March, the group's engineers unveiled a minivan design they said showed automakers can build affordable vehicles with existing technology that meet or exceed pollution standards adopted by California and other states.

Following the two-hour meeting Wednesday, Friedman said GM and the group remained at "loggerheads." Both sides agreed to keep details confidential.

But Friedman noted, "I think we will have to build a driveable vehicle" to convince GM the technology works. "We didn't change any minds."

Lutz declined comment. GM spokesman Chris Preuss said, "The challenge with the environmentalists is that there is a complete lack of business and technical experience from which they can draw conclusions.

"The fact is that we must balance dozens of complex regulatory and consumer issues in producing vehicles -- safety, performance, fuel economy and affordability, to name but a few The more we can inform and engage the misconceptions, the more robust the societal discussion will be. For that reason, we think the meeting was very worthwhile."

Lutz has been an ardent critic of fuel economy mandates. With Congress considering proposals to dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of the nation's cars and trucks, automakers face the prospect of spending billions of dollars to adapt their fleets.

"There is no technological bag of tricks that enables much better fuel economy than we have today," he wrote on a company blog in December. "Despite what alarmists may think, we don't have any magic 100-mpg carburetor that we're holding back because we're in bed with the oil companies."

Larry Nitz, executive director of GM's hybrid technology, said Tuesday at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2007 World Congress that incorporating existing technology could boost fuel efficiency by 18-20 percent.

"In the long run, we need to take the automobile out of the environmental debate" by moving to electrically-powered vehicles, Nitz said.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662 - 8735 or dshepardson@detnews.com.

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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